وَإِذ قالَ موسىٰ لِقَومِهِ يا قَومِ لِمَ تُؤذونَني وَقَد تَعلَمونَ أَنّي رَسولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيكُم ۖ فَلَمّا زاغوا أَزاغَ اللَّهُ قُلوبَهُم ۚ وَاللَّهُ لا يَهدِي القَومَ الفاسِقينَ
And when Musa said to his people, ‘O my people, why do you mistreat me when you know that I am the Messenger of Allah to you?’ So when they deviated, Allah made their hearts deviate. Allah does not guide people who are deviators.
(As-Saff, Verse 5)
The following is based on a translation of Dr Fadhel al Samarrai’s Tafseer of Surah Saff. Allah narrates to us the stories of the previous nations so we will learn lessons from them and not commit the same errors. Bani Israel mistreated their messenger Musa (as) so we should not be surprised with their mistreatment of Muslims in Palestine today.
The story of Musa (as) was mentioned in order to comfort the Prophet ﷺ because his ﷺ situation is similar to Musa (as) where Musa’s people harmed him while knowing that he is the Messenger of Allah sent to them.
There is a warning here against deviating from the path of truth, turning away and not following the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as the people of Musa (as) did.
It was said that the relationship of mentioning this story with what was mentioned in the previous verses, is that when the companions of Musa (as) were commanded to fight the Mighty Ones (الجبابرة), they refrained and disobeyed their messenger. So their situation was compared with those who desired to fight but when fighting was prescribed for them they backed down.
It came in Tafseer Abi As-Saud: ‘And when Musa said to his people, O my people, why do you mistreat me?’ This is a presumptive (مستأنف) sentence establishing what happened before from the issue of abandoning fighting… i.e. remember those people who turned away from fighting when Musa commanded Bani Israel to fight the Mighty Ones (الجبابرة) by his saying:
يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَلا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَى أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنْقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ
O my people! enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you. Do not turn back in your tracks and so become transformed into losers.
So they did not comply with his command and they disobeyed him with a serious disobedience.’
It was said that the verse was about a group of Muslims who said something but did not do it which is a type of lie and a form of harm. This type of harm happened to Prophet Musa (as) by his people, so this story was mentioned to comfort the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and to rebuke and warn those who say something but do not do it. It came in Al Bahr Al Muheet:
‘When a group of Muslims who used to say that which they did not do – a sort of a lie, then that is an offense to the Messenger ﷺ, because among his followers are those who suffered from lying, so mentioning the story of Musa was suitable, and he said: why do you mistreat me?’
The word harm or mistreatment (الأَذَى) was used to include all types of harm.
Musa (as) mentioned two matters. One of them is that he called them to defend him, support him and not to harm him.
The first matter is that Bani Israel are his people, so the verse says: وَإِذ قالَ موسىٰ لِقَومِهِ يا قَومِ ‘And when Musa said to his people: O my people!’ The word Al-Qawm is used to indicate men who defend, support and do not harm. The Arabs in jahiliya used to support their brothers whether they were oppressors or oppressed, and based on this they had a well-known proverb – support your brother whether an oppressor or oppressed. The Prophet ﷺ however, gave this proverb a new understanding (i.e. help the oppressor by stopping him).
Another issue is that Bani Israel knew that Musa is the messenger of Allah which necessitated obeying, supporting, defending and not harming him but they harmed him even though these two issues necessitated that they support him.
Musa said to them: يا قَومِ O my people, with a friendly address, for closeness and advising with them with love so as to soften their hearts so they obey him and stop harming him just as man says to his brother ‘o my brother, or to his son, o my son, or to his nephew, o my nephew, calling them to be close and advising them with love.
It is noticed in the Noble Qur’an that in some parts Musa (as) calls them with ‘O my people’ and then mentions to them the issue he wants to convey to them, and sometimes without calling them ‘O my people’, he rather addresses them directly according to the requirement of the situation.
So when Musa seeks to care for their interests, soften their hearts or in a position of reminding them of the favors which Allah has bestowed upon them, he call thems with ‘O my people’, and when it is in the situation of rebuke and condemnation then he does not say to them ‘O my people’.
Allah (swt) says:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنبِيَاءَ وَجَعَلَكُم مُّلُوكًا وَآتَاكُم مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِّنَ الْعَالَمِينَ
يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ وَلَا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ
Remember when Musa said to his people, ‘My people! remember Allah’s blessing to you when He appointed Prophets among you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given to anyone else in all the worlds! ‘My people! enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you Do not turn back in your tracks and so become transformed into losers.’
So Musa mentioned the favor of prophethood and kingship among them, and each one is linked to their people whom among them is prophethood and kingship. Then he incited their zeal and their pride so as to enter the holy land which Allah prescribed for them so he said ‘O my people’ in two places in the verse.
Whereas in another verse Allah (swt) says:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ أَنجَاكُم مِّنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ وَيُذَبِّحُونَ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَاءَكُمْ ۚ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُم بَلَاءٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ
Remember when Musa said to his people, ‘Remember Allah’s blessing to you when He rescued you from the people of Pharaoh. They were inflicting an evil punishment on you, slaughtering your sons and letting your women live. In that there was a terrible trial from your Lord.
So Musa reminded them of the days of their humiliation when they were inflicted with the worst torment, their sons were slaughtered and their women kept alive so he did not call them with ‘O my people’ because no person wants to boast about nor be attributed to a humiliated people.
You may say but Allah (swt) says (without O my people):
اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ أَنجَاكُم مِّنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ
Remember Allah’s blessing to you when He rescued you from the people of Pharaoh
Whereas in a previous verse He (swt) says (with O my people):
يَا قَوْمِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنبِيَاءَ وَجَعَلَكُم مُّلُوكًا وَآتَاكُم مَّا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِّنَ الْعَالَمِينَ
‘O my people! Remember Allah’s blessing to you when He appointed Prophets among you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given to anyone else in all the worlds!
There is a big difference between the two descriptions in these verses, which is the blessing of might and authority, and this is the bounty of being saved from humiliation. Therefore the vocative call (O my people) was placed where it was most suitable.
Allah (swt) says:
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
O Children of Israel! remember the blessing I conferred on you and that I preferred you over all other beings.
Here Musa did not say to them ‘O My people’, because it is a place of blame for them and rebuking them and it mentioned what will come to them. Then they killed a person and Allah (swt) bought him back to life in order to expose the killer. Then it mentioned the issue of the cow, and these incidents are not worthy for the people to be honored. So Musa did not say ‘O My people’, rather he commanded them to slaughter in order to bring out the killer.
After Musa (as) returned from conversing with Allah, Bani Israel started worshiping the calf after him and they took it as a god:
وَلَمَّا رَجَعَ مُوسَىٰ إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ غَضْبَانَ أَسِفًا قَالَ بِئْسَمَا خَلَفْتُمُونِي مِن بَعْدِي ۖ أَعَجِلْتُمْ أَمْرَ رَبِّكُمْ ۖ وَأَلْقَى الْأَلْوَاحَ وَأَخَذَ بِرَأْسِ أَخِيهِ يَجُرُّهُ إِلَيْهِ ۚ قَالَ ابْنَ أُمَّ إِنَّ الْقَوْمَ اسْتَضْعَفُونِي وَكَادُوا يَقْتُلُونَنِي فَلَا تُشْمِتْ بِيَ الْأَعْدَاءَ وَلَا تَجْعَلْنِي مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
قَالَ رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِأَخِي وَأَدْخِلْنَا فِي رَحْمَتِكَ ۖ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا الْعِجْلَ سَيَنَالُهُمْ غَضَبٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَذِلَّةٌ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۚ وَكَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُفْتَرِينَ
When Musa returned to his people in anger and great sorrow, he said, ‘What an evil thing you did in my absence after I left! Did you want to hasten your Lord’s command?’ He threw down the Tablets and seized hold of his brother’s head, dragging him towards him. Harun said, ‘Son of my mother, The people oppressed me and almost killed me. Do not give my enemies cause to gloat over me. Do not include me with the wrongdoing people.’ He said, ‘My Lord, forgive me and my brother and admit us into Your mercy. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.’ As for those who adopted the Calf, anger from their Lord will overtake them together with abasement in the life of the dunya. That is how we repay the purveyors of falsehood.
Musa did not say to them يَا قَوْمِ بِئْسَمَا خَلَفْتُمُونِي مِن بَعْدِي ‘O my people! What an evil thing you did in my absence after I left!’. This is because it is about severe anger, censure and threat against them because very soon the anger of Allah and the worldly humiliation will reach them and especially since he sought forgiveness for himself and his brother. Therefore it was not suitable for Musa to say ‘O My people’ and to associate them to himself.
You may say that Musa said ‘O My people’ in another place. Allah (swt) said:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ إِنَّكُمْ ظَلَمْتُمْ أَنفُسَكُم بِاتِّخَاذِكُمُ الْعِجْلَ فَتُوبُوا إِلَىٰ بَارِئِكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ عِندَ بَارِئِكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
And when Musa said to his people, ‘My people, You wronged yourselves by adopting the Calf so turn towards your Maker and kill yourselves. That is the best thing for you in your Maker’s sight.’ And He turned towards you. He is the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful.
So what is the difference here? The answer is the context and position of each verse is different to the other. So what is in Sura ‘Araaf, was at the time of occurrence and in situation of extreme anger, whereas for the verse in Sura Al Baqarah, it was recalling what happened after the incident and the calming down of anger where they were called to repent. It was after some time where Allah had forgiven them so Allah (swt) said in the context of the cow himself:
وَإِذْ وَاعَدْنَا مُوسَىٰ أَرْبَعِينَ لَيْلَةً ثُمَّ اتَّخَذْتُمُ الْعِجْلَ مِن بَعْدِهِ وَأَنتُمْ ظَالِمُونَ ثُمَّ عَفَوْنَا عَنكُم مِّن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
And when We allotted to Musa forty nights. Then you adopted the Calf when he had gone and you were wrongdoers. Then We pardoned you after that so that perhaps you would show thanks.
Therefore Allah (swt) had forgiven them, so the two situations are different. The first situation was during the time of sinning and the second is after pardoning. Therefore every expression is suitable to its place.
Additionally the context in Sura Al Baqara is general, and it is enumerating the favors upon Bani Israel as opposed to what is in Sura Al-‘Araaf. The opening speech in Al Baqarah about Bani Israel is Allah’s saying:
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَوْفُوا بِعَهْدِي أُوفِ بِعَهْدِكُمْ وَإِيَّايَ فَارْهَبُونِ
O Children of Israel, remember the blessing I conferred on you. Honour My contract and I will honour your contract. Have dread of Me alone.
And Allah said after that before mentioning the incident of the calf:
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
O Children of Israel, remember the blessing I conferred on you and that I preferred you over all other beings.
So Musa (as) then invites Bani Israel whom Allah favored and forgave, therefore to say ‘O My people’ was suitable as opposed to what is in Al-Araaf.
Musa said to them in Surah Saaf: يَا قَوْمِ لِمَ تُؤْذُونَنِي وَقَد تَّعْلَمُونَ أَنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ إِلَيْكُمْ ‘O my people, why do you mistreat me when you know that I am the Messenger of Allah to you?’ – so he addressed them with ‘O My people’ to seek their sympathy and to soften their hearts.
Then Musa said: لِمَ تُؤْذُونَنِي ‘why do you mistreat me?’ and he did not say ‘why have you mistreated me (in the past tense)’ to indicate continuity of the harm to him (as).
Musa then said وَقَد تَّعْلَمُونَ أَنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّـهِ إِلَيْكُمْ ‘when you know that I am the Messenger of Allah to you’, to indicate that his message was not general for all people and it was only for Bani Israel. This was the case of all the Messengers before our master Muhammad ﷺ.
فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّـهُ قُلُوبَ
‘So when they deviated, Allah made their hearts deviate.’
In other words when Bani Israel inclined away from the truth, Allah turned their hearts away from it, so that was the suitable recompense for their aversion. Indeed Allah does not oppress anyone.
ۚ وَاللَّـهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
‘Allah does not guide people who are deviators.’
They were described with transgression (fisq) because it was suitable as the meaning of fisq is to leave the path of truth. The original meaning of fisq is from فسقت الرطبة ‘the date came out – when it bursts out of its skin.’ So they left from the path of truth and they inclined away from it. Therefore they were described with transgression which is most appropriate since fisq is leaving the path.